How to substitute ingredients when making skincare products

Has this ever happened to you?

  • You find a product that you want to make but you are missing one or more of the ingredients?
  • You live in a country where some ingredients are not readily available
  • You want to save money by using less expensive ingredients while still retaining the benefits of the product.

We often get asked: I love your recipe/formula for X product but I don’t have Y ingredient. What can I use instead?

This is a great question!

You are starting to look at the product formula and see how you can make adjustments.

You are starting to think like a formulator!


To help you choose a substitute ingredient, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions:


1) What is the purpose of the overall product?

Every skincare product has a specific purpose, a specific thing that it will help with. When you start to think about substituting ingredients you’ll need to decide if you want to stay true to the original purpose of the product or if you want to change it.

If you want to stay true then you’ll want to replace ingredients with ones that will offer the same benefit. If you want to create a product with a slightly different purpose then you are free to select ingredients that offer something different.

Fill in this blank:

The purpose of the product is to:______________.


Then get specific about the ingredient in question.


2) What is the function of the ingredient in the product? What is its role, what does it do?

Is it an emulsifier/ thickener/ preservative/ emollient etc?

You’ll want to substitute like for like. So one emulsifiers for another emulsifier, or one emollient for another emollient.

Fill in this blank:

The role/ function of the ingredient is: _____________.


3) What benefit does this ingredient offer?

If you want to stay true to the original purpose of the product you’ll want to find something else that offers the same or similar benefit.

For example if it is an anti-aging active, you’ll want to replace it with another anti-aging active. If it is an uplifting essential oil then you’ll want to replace it with another uplifting essential oil. If it’s a carrier oil that assists in skin barrier repair then you’ll want to replace it with another that offers this too.

If you want to alter the benefit of the product then you can do that too by selecting an ingredient which offers a different benefit.

Fill in this blank:

The benefit the ingredient offers is ___________.


4) What skin feel does it give? What is its absorption rate?

These are useful questions to ask when substituting carrier oil or butters. Some carrier oils have a light feeling on the skin and others a medium or heavier feeling. Some are quickly absorbed, others take longer to be absorbed.

If you want to create something similar to the original product then you’ll want to substitute like for like. So one fast absorbing oil for another, for example.

If you want to adapt the product and create something a bit different then you could mix it up a bit and substitute an oil for one with a different skin feel or absorption rate

Fill in this blank:

The skin feel/ absorption rate of the ingredient is _________.


Once you’ve considered these questions, and filled in the blanks you’ll know: 

The purpose of the product is to:____________

The role/ function of the ingredient is __________

The benefit the ingredient offers is ___________

The skin feel/ absorption rate of the ingredient is _________

Then the final part of the puzzle is to complete this sentence:

Therefore other possible ingredients are _________.

(This one will take a bit of thinking/ research.  If you are restricted to using a particular supplier you’ll need to see what else they sell that fits the bill.)


Once you have a shortlist of ingredients you can consider:

  • Can I easily get hold of this?
  • Is it within my price range?

Then you can refine your list further.


The next step is to practice and experiment!

  • Rewrite the recipe or formula with your chosen substitute ingredient.
  • Consider if you need to alter the amount or % it is being used. For example if you are replacing a soft butter such as shea butter with a harder butter such as cocoa butter you may want to reduce the amount or % that the butter is being used at.
  • Try making the product with one of your substitute ingredients.
  • Record the results. Are you happy or do you want to try something different?


Getting to know the functions, benefits, properties and qualities of ingredients is essential if you want to start making adjustments to recipes and thinking and creating like a formulator.


We have some exciting FREE training coming up, helping you put on your formulators hat and create unique products (rather than just following recipes).

Want in? Great! Just enter your details below!

YES! I want to start formulating my own gorgeous and unique products!  Please send me the free training when it’s released:

7 ways beauty products can change the world

Beauty products are not just about looking beautiful anymore. In fact beauty products that are simply aimed at helping you look more beautiful are on the way out and something much more exciting is taking their place.


How about if you could take care of your skin, improve its look and feel AND, in addition, do something positive – for your world, your customers’ world or the wider world? Well, you can!


You could take care of your skin AND


  • Support women in Ghana to make a decent living to support their family (by using Fairtrade ingredients)
  • Help the bee population thrive (by choosing Organic ingredients)
  • Feel better, more relaxed or uplifted (by including therapeutic essential oils)
  • Live a clean or raw lifestyle (use raw, cold pressed ingredients)
  • Support renewable energy (through your manufacturing)
  • Put money back into your local economy (through supporting a local artisan brands)
  • And even help disenfranchised people back on their feet by supporting businesses that hire them (outsource to an ethical manufacturer)


Each of us holds different things near and dear to our hearts. The exciting thing is we can do something about them through the skincare products we make and buy.


The latest industry trends show that many consumers are demanding more from their skincare. From water saving products and sustainable sourcing and manufacturing, to products that enhance your sleep and energy levels, people want more from their beauty products than just beauty.


As someone who makes their own products, the power is in your hands too!


Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is important to me? What kind of world do I want to live in?
  • If I could change 3 things about personal care products, what would it be?
  • What could I do when creating my products that would make a difference?


Then use these answers to help you create products that live out your values, that help you express your own passions and uniqueness, that help you make your mark.


What is absolutely certain is that by making your own natural and organic skincare you could be taking an active role in living your values and in creating a better, greener, more ethical, sustainable, health-conscious future….or whatever future you aspire to see and leave for the generations to come.


We’ll leave you with this thought:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. Margaret Mead



8 reasons not to follow recipes (and formulate your own products instead)


So what’s the problem with following recipes?


If we only follow recipes then we’re limiting ourselves to learning from others when instead we could just as easily learn the art and science to create products ourselves and create our own recipes!


  1. Recipes are only as good as the person who created them and often you don’t know them so you don’t know how reliable they are.
  2. Books go out of date (as do blogs), which means you can’t be sure how reliable they are, or whether they are up to date, or more importantly whether they are safe.
  3. There’s also no support which means if you find a problem with your product (or need to check some information), you probably won’t find it that easy to get some tips to fix the problem.
  4. It’s difficult to adapt or change the recipe if you don’t understand how to do this, and if you do, you run the risk of doing something incorrect or unsafe!


Don’t get us wrong, when learning to make products following recipes has it’s place.


  1. They are a great starting point to help us get used to the actual act of making products when all we really need to focus on is the how-to
  2. They are also a great way of getting inspiration when we become skillful product creators
  3. If we find a recipe that looks good and like something we might like, then heck, why not go for it? Absolutely!


BUT if you STOP following other people’s recipes and instead CREATE your OWN products and recipes you can then begin to do so much more!


(This is called formulating, by the way.)


8 reasons not to follow recipes and instead formulate (design) your own products:


1) You can make products tailored to your specific skin needs and preferences


Your skin has certain needs that you want to address. For example, it might be oily, dry or wrinkles might be appearing. This might be combined with other needs such as sensitivity to essential oils or patches of eczema.


You also probably have certain preferences (likes and dislikes) when it comes to products. For example you love floral fragrances or you hate the medicinal smell of tea tree. You love cleansing balms and don’t like cleansing lotions.


When you design your own products you can consider BOTH your needs and preferences to create your IDEAL product!


An example here is that lots of products aimed at acne prone skin contain tea tree which is a fab ingredient for addressing the NEEDS and problems of this skin type BUT many people don’t like the smell (so it’s not suiting their preferences).


2) It’s the only way to make products that your customers will love


If you want to sell your products you will want to make products that:


  1. Are really good quality, safe and stable
  2. Your customers love and keep coming back for


The way to make something they love is to make something that suits their needs and preferences. You’ll never find a ready to follow recipe that knows exactly what your ideal customers need and like. You’ll need to create that yourself.


3) You can really begin to weave your values into your products

What is important to you? What do you wish you could change about the skincare products on the market?


When you formulate your own products you can formulate with this in mind too!


For example:


  • You might want to create vegan products that don’t contain beeswax.
  • Or your son might have a nut allergy and you want to make a nut free product.
  • You might want to create feel good products that help your feel positive and uplifted when you use them.
  • You might want to lower your carbon footprint and use as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.


Values important to you personally, or to your customers, can be taken into consideration when creating your own product formulations.


4) Make the perfect product


You have probably experienced following a recipe but not really liking the finished product? Or making a product and being disappointed in the (lack of) results it gives?


When you learn how a recipe or formula is put together and the function of different ingredients you also know how to adapt, vary and change the product. So if you make something that you don’t like (e.g. too greasy, too thin, too hard, it separates etc) you know how to put it right. You can also use ingredients that will really give you the results you want.


5) Create high quality, safe and stable products


As our Checklist: How to make sure the skincare products you make are safe and stable points out, there are TONS of unsafe recipes floating around on the internet.

By learning how to make your own products properly, you’ll also learn how to do it according to industry regulations and safety guidelines. This gives you peace of mind that what you are using, selling or giving away is high quality, safe and stable.


6) Save time and costly mistakes


Following on from points 4 and 5, when you formulate your own product you will spend a fair amount of time creating your recipe on paper first before actually making it. When you do this and do this properly it will save you both time and mistakes that ultimately cost you money.


7) Become more independent and self-reliant


Rather than dashing off to the nearest Facebook group every time you want to know something or fix a problem (and get advice that may or may not be helpful and correct), you’ll have developed the mindset to solve it yourself. Imagine how wonderful that will feel!


8) Make your mark, create something unique and different – and have fun!


Formulating your own products is a wonderful opportunity to express your individuality and creativity. Plus, choosing and experimenting with butters, oils, essential oils and botanical extracts is a huge amount of fun too.


If you like the sound of formulating your own products then be sure to hop on our mailing list as coming soon is Formulating February!

We’ll be sharing our top tips and an awesome free training to get you started with formulating your own products.


YES! I want to start formulating my own gorgeous and unique products!

How natural is natural skincare?

“Is this natural?”  We’ve heard many of our students ask that question about a wide spectrum of ingredients, as they move through our courses, or sometimes it will be posted in our online student forums. 

The answer is not so straightforward, and it actually poses a really personal question right back toward you: Do you think it is natural?  Do your customers think its natural?

Each person has a different interpretation and definition of the term natural.  With the added complication of being a widespread global industry which currently does not have regulation or governance guiding terminology, that leaves the natural formulator and customer confused about what to call or define as natural or unnatural.


By developing your own definition of what you consider natural, you are creating a clear boundary and focus for you, your skincare brand and your company.


Degrees of natural

There are varying degrees of natural.  Starting with the most raw, organic version of something naturally-occurring from nature, being unrefined, unprocessed and pure.  An example of this would be raw, organic unrefined butters and oils such as shea butter, cocoa butter or coconut oil.  These oils are cold-pressed and filtered, and that is the extent of their processing.  Most everyone would define this as natural.

There are many naturally-occurring ingredients which are refined and processed, sometimes with a natural process such as cold-pressing or filtration.  There are methods of processing such as bleaching or deodorizing where a chemical or substance is applied in order to achieve a desired effect.  The end product is something which many would call natural, however it has been chemically altered in what some may define as an unnatural or chemical. 

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